Papel picado lines
the back wall and table of this memorial
Intricate tissue paper cut-outs called papel picado
are draped over 'offering' tables. Notice the wash basin
and towel in the bottom right of this photo. This is so
the visiting souls can freshen up from their long
journey before enjoying the food provided for them.
the entire street of
Cinco de Mayo is blocked off to traffic and
commemorative altars for the departed are set up. House
after house show colorful adornments and the preparation
of special foods that are laid out for those who have
died. Marigold flowers, thought to represent the rays of
the sun and linked with life, are placed strategically
so the deceased will not lose their place in the
universe, when they come to visit.
Catrinas is very popular during The Days of the Dead
young girls are dressed like a Catrina, one of
the most popular figures of the Day of the Dead
celebrations. Scholars trace the origins of the modern
holiday to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess
called Mictecacihuatl (pronounced
meek-tay-cah-SEE-wah-tl) or The Lady of The Dead.
Catrina dolls can be purchased in shops all over
Mexico and are highly prized by natives and tourists
alike for their artistic detail.
Pine needles form
a pathway to the memorial altar
is a topic largely avoided in the USA, but Mexico's Day
of the Dead is rare mix of pre-Hispanic and Roman
Catholic rituals. The holiday is an illustration of the
synthesis of pre-Hispanic and Spanish cultures that has
come to define this country and its people.
A young woman
arranges food on this altar as a skeleton looks on
Candles, decorations made from rice, best-loved photos,
memorabilia, flowers and even the favorite drink of the
deceased are all laid out to encourage souls to visit on
this special night.
common symbol of the holiday is the skull, called
calavera. Often you will see people dress up with
their faces painted to look like skulls, just like the
person to the left in this photo. Notice the marigolds
in patterns to help the deceased find their way.
dressed as little skeletons
Children dressed up as skeletons are a common sight on
this holiday, and they have great fun participating in
November 1 is set aside for remembrance of infants and
children who have died, often referred to as
(little angels). It is hard not to get the chills or
become emotional when seeing displays made for these
Family photos of
those who have gone before
Those who have died as adults are honored November 2.
you can see in this photo, the family above has lost
several members. Food is laid out and the souls 'eat'
the essence leaving the substance behind. Although
believed now to be void of all nutritional value, the
living will eat the fruits and prepared meals later on.
A male Catrina
is a representation of a Mexican warrior from Mexico's
War of Independence. Catrinas are skeleton dolls made in
both male and female form.
warrior with rifle and bullet bands crossing his chest
larger-than-life paper-mache warrior skeletons are done
in remarkable detail.
female Catrina representing the Mexican Revolution.
held a significant place in the rituals of the ancient
Aztecs. For example, it was considered a blessing to die
in childbirth, battle or human sacrifice, for these
deaths assured the victim a desirable destination in the
A fisherman in his
deceased family member was obviously a fisherman. An
elaborate set up to represent his livelihood as a man of
the waters has been constructed, complete with boat,
fishing net, sail and the painted surf in the
background. Notice the name 'Lupe' is written out in
marigolds on the boat's hull.
figure in the boat wears some favored clothing of the
one who has died, a basket of fruit is waiting for him
on his return and the marigolds guide his way into the
photos commemorating the lives lived are on display
here. Notice the crucifix on the table and the picture
of the Virgin Mary at the top of the altar. Again, you
can easily see the blend of the Aztec custom with the
Roman Catholic beliefs.
Mimes sitting at a
table representing a local restaurant
young adults, dressed fully for the occasion, are
practicing mime. Slowly and deliberately they will
change their positions and hold them indefinitely, then
change them again.
The sign on the table
says "not dead" - referring to the restaurant El Zapote.
young man is playing cards and has a pack of cigarettes
on the table. There are several brands of tequila (the
National Drink), a couple of bottles of Coca-Cola and
some chips on a plate. The table and refreshments are
sponsored by a local restaurant El Zapote.
manner in which the Mexicans celebrate the passing of
their loved ones, with humor, love and theater creates a
sort of cathartic experience. A dance with Death,
instead of avoiding Him all together.
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